May 30

Viafora’s Caricatures in Musical America 
RIPM’s “Illustrations of the Week” 
(Part One)

It was in this way that Gianni Viafora, arguably the most important caricaturist of musical personalities during the first quarter of the twentieth century, was introduced to the readers of Musical America, a journal to which he contributed extensively. [1]

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce one of the cleverest caricaturists in this city, Mr. Viafora, who is to draw pictures exclusively for Musical America… The fine satire and subtle humor of Mr. Viafora’s sketches have long since made him a favorite with operagoers and opera artists alike and the readers of two continents, especially those of Italian and American nationality, are familiar with the name of the great artist[2]

Gianni Viafora was born in 1870 in Cosenza, a city in Calabria, Italy; in 1899 he married the well-known soprano Gina Ciaparelli; and, three years later the Viaforas settled in New York.  After contributing caricatures to publications in Chicago and New York and to magazines in Italy, Viafora became a regular contributor to Musical America in 1911.

Viafora (top left) with the Bass Pompilio Malatesta, the baritone Riccardo Stracciari, and Theodore Bauer, Representative of the Boston Opera House (Photo taken between 1915 and 1920)
Bains Collection, Library of Congress, LC-B2-4472-1., accessed 29 May 2018.

His most extensive contribution to the popular music magazine appeared in a regular column entitled “Musical America’s Gallery of Celebrities,” which contains 222 numbered caricatures of some of the most celebrated musical personalities active in the musical life of the period. As demonstrated by his first and last caricatures drawn for this series, Viafora’s range of subjects extended from the most revered (Enrico Caruso) to those, while well-known at the time, all but forgotten today (Umberto Sorrentino).

Vol. 23 No. 7 (18 December 1915): 7; Vol. 32 No. 4 (22 May 19120): 7.

Furthermore, the manner in which Viafora drew his subjects clearly reflected his kind nature. For his drawings do not depict his subjects by grotesquely exaggerating a physical feature, which is the manner we today often recognize a caricature. Rather, his drawings often attempt to depict an aspect of the inner character of his subjects. Of course, there is the occasional big belly or large nose here and there. But more often than not it is a wrinkle, a frown, the position of a hand, the stance of an artist while performing, a slightly troubled countenance, a characteristic facial expression or a glimmer or a smile or sparkling eyes that reveals something special and unique about the nature of the subject. Here are a few more examples of drawings from Viafora’s “Gallery.”

(L-top) The Polish pianist, composer, statesman, and politician Ignacy Paderewski; (R-top) Victor Maurel, the celebrated French operatic baritone; (L-bottom) the iconic American band composer John Philip Sousa; (R-bottom) internationally acclaimed violinist Maud Powell
Vol. 23 No. 9 (1 January 1916): 7; Vol. 29 No. 4 (23 November 1918): 7; Vol. 24 No. 6 (10 June 1916): 7; Vol. 25 No. 6 (9 December 1916): 7. 

More caricatures of this marvelous artist will appear in future postings.  You can expect to see contemporary photos of Viafora’s subjects alongside the artist’s depiction of them, which allows one to appreciate the delicacy of his approach.  And, accompanying each image will be brief texts from Musical America which we hope will offer insights into this extraordinarily rich and surprisingly little-explored documentary resource.

As you can see, no musical contemporary was safe from Viafora’s pen, not even his wife!

Vol. 27 No. 26 (27 April 1918): 7. 


RIPM search tip: For more on Viafora and his drawings in Musical America, access the RIPM Preservation Series: European and North American Music Periodicals, and fill in the following fields: Periodical: Musical America (New York, 1898-1899, 1905-1922 [-1964]), Keyword(s): Viafora.

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RIPM is an international non-profit organization preserving and providing access to music periodicals published in more than twenty countries between approximately 1760 and 1966, from Bach to Bernstein. Functioning under the auspices of the International Musicological Society, and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres, RIPM produces four electronic publications: Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals, Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals with Full Text, European and North American Music Periodicals (Preservation Series), and RIPM Jazz Periodicals (Preservation Series, forthcoming).



[1] This post and ongoing series relies heavily on a recently published essay by RIPM’s Founder and Director, H. Robert Cohen. For more, see H. Robert Cohen, “Viafora’s ‘Gallery of Celebrities’ in Musical America (1915-1920),” Music Cultures in Sounds, Words and Images: Essays in Honor of Zdravko Blažeković, (Vienna: Hollitzer Verlag, 2018): 535-569.

[2] Musical America, Vol. 15 No. 2 (18 November 1911), 21.

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Posted May 30, 2018 by Ben Knysak in category "Illustration(s) of the Week